Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Is It Monday Yet?

In case my eagerness to insert Frogs or Empire of the Ants into any unrelated conversation has gotten past you, I really, really really, really really really, and did I mention really? love the strange pocket of genre cinema known as Nature Strikes Back. Whether we’re dealing with two-story high chickens or Leslie Nielson wrestling a bear bare-chested, there’s just something about animals banding together to take us silly opposable thumb wielders down that never fails to make me smile.

Colin Eggleston’s Long Weekend (with a script from Patrick scribe Everett de Roche) is best described as the arthouse interpretation of what is otherwise considered a fairly silly (yet incredibly enjoyable) batch of films. Think of it as Day of the Animals That Are Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Quick Plot: Marcia and Peter are an incredibly unhappy married couple with some disposable income and a lot of harmful secrets. To maybe mend some of their troubles, they begrudgingly embark upon a small road trip to what they expect to be a secluded beach located deep into the forests of Australia. Though Marcia would rather be basking in the comfort of a five-star hotel, Peter insists on lugging his expensive camping gear and chubby dog Cricket for one of those manly back-to-nature vacations that only rich people can actually take.

The ride there is not without its difficulty. Peter receives some strangely contradictory information at a local gas station that seems to be urging him away from his destination, although it’s the brutal running-over-of-a-kangaroo that sets an eerie tone. As news reports drop hints about bird attacks and Eggleston’s camera glares ominously at wayward wombats (band name trademark pending), we get the increasing sensation that nature isn’t crazy about these bickering humans.

Neither are we. Ever so slowly, Marcia and Peter reveal some of the reasons for their coldness towards each other, including infidelity and unwanted abortion. Throughout it all, Marcia seems to share our sentiment that something in this natural paradise wants them out. A sea cow (yes, it’s apparently a thing) washes up onshore. Peter gets Fabio’d by a giant seagull. 

Harpoons shoot on their own. A grime coated Barbie doll with Marcia’s haircut ominously shows up naked as Marcia sunbathes a few feet away. 

Something is off, and perhaps, the film surmises, deservedly so, as we witness Peter litter and nonchalantly chop down a tree while Marcia sprays pesticide at innocent ants. Their disregard for the outdoors is noted.

Long Weekend is a supremely strange film, one that sort of uses the guise of Nature Strikes Back to serve up a far more haunting story about a toxic relationship. Although we do get hints that animals are misbehaving elsewhere in the country, the two-character thrust of the film could almost lead you to believe all these seemingly ‘unnatural’ natural acts are actually part of our leads’ unraveling psyches. Certainly the fate of one character seems, albeit unclearly, to be more an act of human than god or goose. 

Some might find it pretentious, especially since the film is often categorized alongside much lighter fare like Food of the Gods. This is a horror movie in the way that Picnic At Hanging Rock is a horror movie: something supernatural is at work, but that’s ultimately just an excuse. The horror exists between a man and woman who seem to derive more pleasure in hurting their partner than loving them, and yet, as Peter points out so pointedly to Marcia, as clear as it is that the love is gone, the need for one another will probably never die. These people have ruined each other, and therefore, who else can take them?

Long Weekend isn’t shy about its metaphors (re: broken egg), but Eggleston makes them work by creating such a haunting and unusual mood through his depiction of nature. From both an audio and visual point of view, Long Weekend is incredibly atmospheric. Once you plop the saga of Peter and Marcia inside such a landscape, the results are bound to be intense.

High Points
Enough can’t be said about the look of the film, lovingly captured by director of photography Vincent Monton. In an age of forced perspective effects or artful editing around ever putting an animal in the same frame as a human, Monton finds ways to use close shots of creatures to hauntingly brilliant effect

John Hargreaves and Briony Behets have an uphill battle in playing two extremely unlikable characters, and credit must go to both for making such strong commitments 

Without spoiling, let me say that I adored everything about the ending of this film

Low Points
Well, the thing is that the very nature of Long Weekend feels like an uncomfortably long weekend where you ended up stuck tagging along as a third wheel to the most miserably married couple in Australia. So this isn’t exactly a fun romp, which can, you know, be a bit of a drag

Lessons Learned
A domesticated pet is, to the natural animals of the wildness, something of an uncle tom

Whatever you do, do not feed the possums

It’s not smart to leave your dog home alone unsupervised for three days, but when all is said and done, it might be preferable to spending a dreadful weekend in your company

Remade in 2008, Long Weekend is something truly unusual and well worth a quiet night of watching. The Synapse released DVD includes a fascinating commentary track and photo still gallery with an audio interview of the late Hargreaves (which comes with a spoiler warning, something I find endearingly adorable). White it won’t give you that fun beer & friends party night feeling like Frogs, Long Weekend is an eerie descent into marital hell that just so happens to be spoken in the language of animals amuck. Give it a try.

And watch your back. A koala might be doing the same.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Another One Bites the Dust

When someone warns me not to see a movie, I generally take that as further prodding to, you know, immediately bump it to the top of my Instant Queue. Thus is the case with Junkyard Dog, a movie written and directed by Kim Bass, he with many a credit for Kenan & Kel. As anyone who knows my fondness for Good Burger can guess, there was no way I was resisting this movie.

Quick Plot: We are told in text something very infuriating:

“This film was inspired by actual events”

You know what? So was The Blair Witch Project. So was Tremors. So was Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. EVERYTHING is inspired by ‘actual events,’ otherwise where would we even get the ideas in the first place? Someone sat on a bed once. Bam! MAKE A MOVIE OUT OF IT.

Sorry. That and “special appearance by” bother the hemoglobin out of me.

Moving on, we’re introduced to a character maybe eventually named Jed (because he's actually Junkyard Dog or JYD, get it?), who runs a southern junkyard with his trusted pooch. Jed has a few unsavory habits that include abducting young women and imprisoning them in an underground bunker so they can serve him in multiple ways: cooking for him (and his dog), being raped by him, and finally, being cooked by the next girl for him (and his dog).

You might call him efficient.

He’s also, you know, a sadistic killer. Lucky for him, his level of sadism is about as high as cinematic law enforcement’s level of competency, so things generally go his way.

We start with a ditzy college student named Audra committing the cardinal sins of 1) going to a Halloween party dressed as if being goth was a costume 2) driving a Volkswagon bug as if to establish character 3) being smart enough to run out of gas and 4) easily being kidnapped by ‘JYD ' despite the fact that he’s doing his best Michael Shannon impersonation.

Let me tell you something folks: being held prisoner by a sadistic cannibal racist is not very fun. Although she has full access to a hot shower, Audra is otherwise stuck eating canned beans with a plastic fork and bending to Jed’s desires, be they telling the history of her family name or tying up her shirt ‘like Daisy May.’ Worst of all for poor Audra is the terrifying fact that those trying to save her are less qualified to conduct investigations than my cats are to complete the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle.

Vivica A. Fox plays Samantha, an FBI agent coming off a dramatic case that ended in the death of a few bad guys. We’re introduced to Samantha in an unintentionally hilarious scene where her boss tries to aggressively compliment her while she aggressively doesn’t accept. 

It gets better. The first stop on Samantha’s search is a local bar that affords us the luxury of a country line dance break interrupted by Samantha’s big city interrogations. It’s almost adorable.

Through a few ridiculous character moves that don’t involve using handcuffs or calling for backup, Samantha ends up sharing a cell with Audra and embarking on another few days of attempted escape, all of which are poorly planned and do not speak well for the FBI’s training abilities. 

Perhaps that explains the final quote that covers the screen before the end credits:

“According to an FBI behavioral unit study, 85% of the world’s serial killers are in the United States of America.”

No prize to figure out why that might be the case.

High Notes
Though no Cop Dog Kuma, the dog actor is okay...

Low Notes
...except, allow me to go on a canine expert rant here:

Jed’s junkyard dog is played by a Malinois. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s also known as a Belgian Shepherd and looks like this:

These are smart dogs, hence their common use in policework and bomb sniffing. But unlike their German cousins, Malinois are generally of a smaller stature, rarely weighing more than 70 lbs. I’m sure such a dog is a dream actor to work with, but when your dialogue includes scenes of other actors commenting on the dog’s viciousness or enormous size, I’m going to call out some serious canine miscasting here

Thus continues the waste of Brad Dourif in supporting roles in bad movies

Lessons Learned
People food ain’t good for dogs

Maybe, just maybe, you shouldn’t leave your CCTV that’s recording the shower of the young woman you’ve kidnapped playing in your office for customers to see

The FBI doesn’t do free

The funny thing about dying is that no one wants to but everyone does--am I missing the joke?

Suicidal tendencies don’t always go well with confinement or a bean diet

The Winning Line
After providing common criminal behavior psychology to explain Jed’s motivation for cannibalism (i.e., power and sexual euphoria), Samantha then gives it her own spin:
“As far as I’m concerned, anybody that kills and then eats his victims is a homicidal maniac who gets his rocks off by murdering people and then eating the evidence.”

Just think about that exchange for a moment. Notice how complicated a statement it tries to be, even though really, it’s just Vivica A. Fox summarizing a textbook theory. If it’s not hitting you as humorous, allow me to rewrite it in the phonetic delivery Fox utilizes:

“As far as I’M concerned...anybody! That KILLS! ...and then EATS!...his victims...

Is a homicidalmaniac who gets his ROCKS OFF by MURDERING people...and then EATING the evidence.”

You see my bliss, right?

Junkyard Dog isn’t a good movie, though for me it worked as more than good entertainment. True, the rape aspect limits some of the fun, but that aside, watching Fox portray such an idiotic FBI agent lends more than a few chuckles, especially when Junkyard Dog hits up Silence of the Lambs for a night vision hunt.

No, I’m serious.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Very Dead Doll's House Thanksgiving

Like most Americans, I used to consider Thanksgiving something of a filler holiday. Sandwiched like leftover turkey breast between the giddy thrills of Halloween and the glitzy glam of Christmas, a historical Thursday devoted to a food that never struck my fancy and brushed-over happy Native American history just felt like a lucky three-day vacation. Sure, the college years made it something of a tentpole (and a great chance to see who got fat by visiting the hometown bars) but the actual importance of the day never hit me until quite recently.

For various reasons, the fourth Thursday in November has become rather special to me. While the virtually endless stream of alcohol and pie certainly has something to do with it, there’s also the whole sense of having plenty to be grateful for, and better yet, being surrounded by people I love while doing so. Also, endless stream of alcohol and pie.

So in honor of a day now reserved for unlucky turkeys and Godzilla-esque balloon animals threatening Manhattan with every floating step, I give you an alphabetized list of some of the things that make me thankful on this ThanksKilling Day:

A for avocados, I eat them right off the knife

B is for Branan, he's my roommate/the love of my life

C is for conventions, where Internet friends mingle and frolic

D stands for dolls, even if they've made me something of an alcoholic

E recalls Endy Chavez, a man who almost brought the Mets to the World Series

F celebrates cats, because I do so love the feline species

G for George RR Martin's Game of Thrones, so addictive and imperial

H is for Honey Nut Shredded Wheat, my ultimate breakfast cereal

I is for Inwood, my new hood and home

J because I love Jeopardy!, even if it's hosted by a cruel Canadian gnome

K stands for killer klowns, beds, refrigerators, and all the villains of horror fun

L for public libraries. Take advantage of them if you’re not dumb

M can represent both my mom and dad

N is for nachos because when I eat them, I can't be sad

O stands for Ommegang beer, my favorite brewer of glee

P is for podcasting, where I can speak and listen merrily

Q stands for queues of the Netflix variety

R represents you my readers, a most awesome society

S marks my siblings of which there are three

T would be Thanksgiving, the day that I drink with revelry 

U because the unicorn in Cabin In the Woods brought me to tears

V signifies ventriloquist's dummies. Hey, we all need something to fear

W marks The Wizard of Oz,a film near and dear to my heart

X for Xander Harris, Buffy's best pal always loyal and stalwart

Y will be Yoda, my favorite fictional creature in the movies

Z for zucchini, shooting health and flavor out like an uzi

Okay, so the last one was a tad weird, but that's what I've got. Happy Thanksgiving one and all!